Cooking up a storm in Tel Aviv

The Dan Gourmet Cooking School teaches the culinary arts with the best the country has to offer.

Nectarine tart with whipped cream (photo credit: MIRIAM KRESH)
Nectarine tart with whipped cream
(photo credit: MIRIAM KRESH)
The bakery at the Dan Gourmet Cooking School is like a hushed, stainless-steel temple.
Except that as you enter, there’s a hint of sensuous delights to come: a delicate sweet tart arrayed with rosy nectarines and a bowl of whipped cream lie at the first work station, a goodie for the students. The next thing you notice is the low temperature of the room. The marble work surfaces are cool to the touch. This is to preserve rich doughs and pastes, to allow no chance of the butter in them melting or of premature rising.
Eran Shvartzbard – gourmet pastry chef, recipe consultant and owner of a boutique pastry shop – is blending a mix of five different seeds to top the morning’s focaccias. On one side, the sous-chef, Keren, slices onions and bell peppers, dousing them with olive oil. The vegetables go into one of the ovens to roast and become an alternative focaccia topping. Calm, humorous and accessible, the chef willingly answers all questions. He seems to be everywhere at once during the five-hour session, stepping in where needed to show a technique or to correct the flour/liquid balance of a dough.
This is the last of three sessions on baking with yeast. The students, who mostly describe themselves as foodies, pair off and head directly to the work stations, donning ample aprons as they go. Shvartzbard distributes the worksheets, an ambitious series of recipes including hallot, focaccia, lemon savarins with whipped amaretto cream, and a bee-sting cake involving a yeast-dough base, a florentine topping and a mousseline cream praline.
“We have a ton of work ahead,” he declares.
The students scan the recipes and begin fetching bowls of all sizes, butter, sugar, flour, yeast, cream, white chocolate. They know exactly where to find all the equipment and ingredients, from the ovens on one side of the room to the refrigerators on the other. The atmosphere is one of intense focus and work throughout.
The couple I observe, two middle-aged women, split the tasks. One talks incessantly and is easily flustered; she runs around fetching things, while her friend frowns over the digital scale, measuring ingredients to a fraction. As time passes, the tense woman calms down and even shows her buddy, who is getting tangled up with dough strands, how to braid them into hallot.
It is fun to watch how the students work. One husband- and-wife team could win an award for their efficiency, hardly exchanging a word yet smoothly moving from one stage to the next. In contrast, a woman who comes in late puts cream and white chocolate on to melt, then forgets it until the pan suddenly overflows.
Observing the constant whirring of electric mixers, I ask Shvartzbard if these traditional recipes tasted the same in the old, pre-electricity days.
“First of all, the recipes are traditional, but we’re always bringing them up to date. Our students want to reproduce breads and pastries they see on TV or in food magazines, and we’re here to teach them how,” he says. “But to answer your question, no, our food doesn’t taste like it did 100 years ago. The qualities of flour and dairy products aren’t the same. The way things are processed today is different, our water and very climate have changed.”
In addition, he continues, bakers used to knead by hand, “which makes a difference in the textures. If you shake hands with an old-timer baker, you’ll see his hands are big and strong, and his arms are muscled like a weight lifter’s. Our own arms and hands are flimsy in comparison,” he smiles. “All we have to do is push buttons and let the machines do the work.”
When the focaccia doughs are ready, he lines a tray with damp paper towels and gently presses the raw loaves onto the moisture, on both sides. He then lays each loaf onto the tray containing the seed mixture, so nique is new to me. Keren presses the roasted vegetables onto some other focaccias. The flatbreads are ready for their final rising.
Raviv Schwartz, manager of the school, recounts that “we opened the school in this location three years ago. Our students are mostly private individuals – hobbyists and foodies who want to learn new techniques or improve their home cooking. We have [renowned local chefs] Avi Bitton, Shmil Hollander, Avi Levy and others. Each brings his own point of view.”
"The school’s emphasis," he says, “is always on up-todate dishes in the fresh, inventive, Israeli style. Take the immigrant cuisines we’re all familiar with: Eastern European, North African, Asian, Mediterranean. Some demand olive oil and za’atar, others butter and paprika.
Our goal is to teach kosher cooking in different genres with our native raw materials, taking the best of what Israel offers.”
He explains that “the courses start with a tour of the kitchen and an explanation of the particular cuisine’s background. For example, in the Asian food course, the chef will talk about basic flavor combinations: ginger, garlic, scallions. He’ll teach knife techniques, according to the individual’s ability. Students learn how to set up their mise en place, how to keep things orderly and manage the work sequence. When the dishes are cooked, the chef will show how to plate and present them. It’s fun; the students eat what they cooked, of course, and drink wine. It’s a nice, social atmosphere.”
The school also offers extended courses of up to eight months for potential professionals, taught by wellknown chefs. The courses are step-by-step, intensive studies of ingredients and techniques, including how to plan menus for intimate occasions or large events.
A family pastry-making event in English will be available during Succot; kids age 10-16 are welcome.
Participants can learn how to make pizza with various toppings, filled crepes, chocolate snacks, and candy on sticks. The date and time: September 30, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The cost of one parent with one child is NIS 525; an additional parent costs NIS 350, and an additional child NIS 250.
The school also holds workshops in English, teaching the cuisines of Italy, France, the US, the Far East and Israel.
The next English-language workshops are scheduled for after the High Holy Days. For more information on these workshops, you can call Michelle at (03) 633-8239.
The Dan Gourmet Cooking School is located at 53 Nes Lagoyim Street, Tel Aviv. Tel.: 1-700-502-999. More information is available on the school’s Facebook page, at, and on YouTube at